The US national team are “raising the bar” and learning how to compete with the world's best, but they won't be raising the World Cup trophy in Brazil next summer, said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Saturday night.
Speaking to NBC Sports Network's Russ Thaler and Kyle Martino at halftime of the LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders match at StubHub Center, Klinsmann was his usual upbeat self as he discussed the impressive progress made by the USMNT during his two-plus years in charge – until Thaler put him on the spot with the final question of the brief interview.
“We're just growing in terms of what our demands are. We are raising the bar,” said Klinsmann of the US, who have qualified for Brazil 2014 with two games to spare. “We say we want to compete with the best in the world one day, we want to get into the top 10 in the world.
“We asked the players to step it up, and we threw them in the cold water – and they were swimming in the cold water here and there.”
But when asked whether his team, when playing at its best, can win the world's most popular tournament, Klinsmann showed the limits of his optimism.
“No, you've got to be realistic,” he said. “I mean, I think we have the potential, obviously like in the past, to get out of the group stage – it depends, obviously, who you have in your group – and then it's all down to 50-50 games. Then you give the real battles in the knockout stage.
“But why not going a bit further than you ever did before? Why not giving the big nations, whoever that is, a real battle? And that's why we play those friendlies in Italy or we play in Bosnia or wherever against top teams in the world, and we showed that we can compete there. So why not in the World Cup?”
Clearly not content with the team's status quo, Klinsmann underlined his intentions to go full bore in search of a maximum six points from next month's qualifiers despite the US having already booked their place in Brazil, and hailed the contributions MLS has made to the national team under his watch.
“It's very important that your domestic league gets stronger and stronger, and we all have to help in doing that. So I'm not afraid of bringing MLS players in, giving them a chance and telling them, 'Listen, if you make a mistake, so what? It's no problem. We all make mistakes,'” he said.
“The growth of MLS is crucial to the national team – [and] our success is crucial for soccer in the entire country. I call the national team the locomotive of soccer in the country, and therefore you work hand in hand.”